Today we are speaking with Zhanna Romanova, our legal expert in Dobrich. Zhanna is a Russian national who for more than half a year has been helping refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine.
Why she chose Bulgaria as her second home, what challenges she faces, what she dreams of and... much more you can read about in this interview.
ANNA: Hello, Zhanna! Thank you so much for accepting our invitation!
ZHANNA: Hi, Annie, thank you very much as well. It was a surprise for me, but I was very. It warmed my heart when you invited me. Thank you so much for your trust!
ANNA: You must know by now that the "Faces of FAR" is the column in which we talk about the team at FAR from a professional and personal perspective. What really impressed me about you is the fact that you've been practicing law since you were 18 years old. Why did you choose this specialty?
ZHANNA: In my case specifically, I cannot say that I chose it. Rather, it chose me. My mother has been practicing law since her student days. In fact, she encouraged me to become a lawyer. But my sister is also one. "My women," as I call them, have been practicing it their whole lives. I was "forced" to walk their way. For most of their lives they worked as notaries. I, on the other hand, was very hesitant about what exactly I wanted to do, because, generally, I'm carry a more emotional personality.
ANNA: I know that Bulgaria is not your home country. How do you feel as a migrant here?
ZHANNA: It's been almost 10 years since I've been living here, and that's a long time. Throughout this time, I have felt many different feelings which would change. The first years were very difficult - a complex process of integration and acceptance of this country. Sometimes I had an overwhelming desire to return to my country, to my native land. Then I calmed down a little. When I learned the language, it became much easier. The language provides many opportunities. So, to all my beneficiaries the first thing, I recommend is to start learning the language.
ANNA: As far as I understand, you have a migrant experience in the Czech Republic as well. Why did you decide to stay in Bulgaria?
ZHANNA: I accept it as fate, it was meant to be that way for me. There are things that don't depend on us. Yes, it is true that we always make decisions and, sometimes, quite serious ones. The decision to stay in Bulgaria was one of those. Then, in 2008, I would have preferred to stay in the Czech Republic. But I could not get my temporary residence permit there, because I was refused several times. And in Bulgaria I had no such problem.
ANNA: What do you like the most here and what are the things you still can't
ZHANNA: Very few things annoy me nowadays. Yes, years ago smoking used to annoy me and the coffee from the coffee machines, but now I get my own coffee from there too. What do I like? You know, I've started to like this easier lifestyle - some people call it laziness. I noticed that my previous rhythm of life when I was working without breaks, is not the one which gives me satisfaction. I am now following the principle: no matter what you do, you must be able enjoy it. But if you're constantly stressed and under pressure, you're not going to be happy at work.
ANNA: You are currently a legal assistant at FAR. How did you learn about the Foundation for
Access to Rights and why did you decide to apply for a position?
ZHANNA: It's a very interesting story that brought me here. Nothing is by coincidence, Annie. Before the war started in Ukraine, I was collaborating with a girl from Odessa who I met on social media. She's a Bulgarian language teacher and she needed someone who could help her with legal matters. So, we became partners. I provided advice on migration law. I also learned about FAR through social media and signed up for the refugee training because I was not familiar with it, and it is a very serious subject. Refugee law was new to me, but the training was at an extremely high level, I was able to learn a lot of things. Then I applied for a job.
ANNA: How do you feel now being a part of the team?
ZHANNA: I realized that you always have to be very considerate to people. Sometimes I have to explain things to them in great detail, but I understand that they are fleeing war and are very vulnerable. In the beginning, it was difficult for me to learn how to communicate with beneficiaries. I didn't know how to keep the boundary. Then I learned. But FAR has given me a so much, even though I've been working here since very recently. I learned a lot from Valeria and from the team in Dobrich especially. We are a great team - an Ukrainian, a Bulgarian and a Russian. Each one of us tries to contribute. It is a huge challenge to be part of the FAR team.
ANNA: How do you keep from burning out?
ZHANNA: Yes, it's complicated, it's really complicated. You must be prepared, not everyone can handle this job. I don't even know how you can prepare, but every single day I realize that I'm doing something very important. My beneficiaries are very different from one another. Some of them come with a negative that they can't overcome, but that's understandable. Everything is understandable. I can help anyone; it doesn't matter who sits before me. Most refugees come with a very positive and warm attitude - they are good and grateful people. They constantly give me some kind of gifts. The last one I got was hand-knitted socks. Sometimes I cry. I realize that all I can do is express my huge gratitude for everything which is happening in my life.
ANNA: What do you dream about now?
ZHANNA: I don't know, I have everything, rather I now set goals for myself.
But, well, I dream of buying a home somewhere close to the sea so that my child can enjoy these natural resources which we have in Bulgaria. We are so happy to be living here!